Photos by Mark Pantoja
There are a lot of reasons why I love Fucked Up, but their lead singer Pink Eyes (real name: Damian Abraham) has to be the chief one. I hate to reduce a band this good to just one element like that, but the dude once tweeted “Black Keys = Nickelback for hipsters.” That, and the first time I saw Fucked Up play was at an outside show at SXSW—when it was actually pretty cold down in Austin—but Abraham stripped to his undies anyway, climbed on top of a speaker, poured a cup of ice water down his pants, and told us all about how an ice cube had fused to his nuts.
September 5th at Slim’s, Damian Abraham and the rest of Fucked Up gave me about a million more reasons to love their band. They didn’t play “Twice Born” for me, but otherwise you’d have to just be an asshole to find anything wrong with their set. The songs they played were mostly from last year’s David Comes To Life (“Queen of Hearts”, “The Other Shoe”), with a couple off of 2008’s The Chemistry of Common Life (“Father the Son”) thrown in as well. The band wasn’t the tightest they’ve ever been, but that’s okay, because their take on hardcore/punk with the occasional psychedelic interlude sounds like it’s meant to be played super loud and just a little sloppy.
The highlight came when Abraham got down into the crowd, walked to the back of the room and sang from on top of a table, then went out the front door and danced with the smokers outside, all while hauling around his mic (which required a lot of chord management by the house staff) and getting bearhugged by about half the members of the crowd. It was completely awesome – not a musical experience you’ll get anywhere else.
Of course, a lot of this was just the same communal vibe punk and hardcore have always fostered. Rohnert Park “hardcore” band Ceremony had just as many stage divers during their opening set as Fucked Up did, and lead singer Ross Farrar let the crowd sing at least half of his lyrics, just like Abraham did. The only difference was that Farrar stayed onstage most of the time, flopping around in a loose-limbed kinda way, and mumbling his lyrics into the mic, whereas Abraham’s boundless energy left no doubt he was giving it 110% for the whole set.
Not to knock Ceremony—Farrar’s stage presence and vocals work for him, in that tried-and-true slacker punk singer kinda way. The band gets a lot of shit for “selling out” or “going soft,” especially after their latest album Zoo sounded more like garage rock than hardcore. But the crowd didn’t really seem to mind, and some of the new songs, like Zoo opener “Hysteria”, didn’t sound too out of place. They ripped through a version of their most brutal classic cut “Kersed” (from their 2006 full-length debut Violence Violence), and even though Farrar doesn’t seem interested in screaming any more, the kids at the show still went wild.
Which isn’t to say the crowd didn’t give Ceremony any shit. There was one point between songs where someone yelled, “play ‘California Über Alles’!”, and before the guy even finished saying it, Farrar responded with an emphatic “no.” He went on to explain: “That’s a Dead Kennedys song. We’re called Ceremony. We’re not the Dead Kennedys.” Another audience member then replied, “you used to be.”
Following a collective moment of suspense with everyone letting that last comment sink in, the band responded with an “aww man” before trying to laugh it off. But I suspect it was no laughing matter to the dude with the carefully hair-sprayed mohawk crushed up against the stage.
Given the demands for ideological purity being hurled at them, you have to give major props to Ceremony for closing the set with the last song from Zoo, “Video.” “We’re about to get sensual,” Farrar warned the crowd before the band launched into the song, because you know he knew it was not going to be a crowd pleaser. It was a great choice, though, because it’s by far the most arty, spacious (read: least heavy), and dynamic song they’ve written. It was a bold choice in its own way, and as a result, was the perfect segue into the Fucked Up set.